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Ethan Allen Romances Soft Side in NYC

Flagship Design Center Flaunts Textiles

Carole Sloan, Staff Staff -- Home Textiles Today, July 7, 2008

Using a lifestyle approach to merchandise assortment as well as presentation, Ethan Allen launched its prototype Design Center here late last month.

One of the major changes in the store layout and merchandise assortment is the presentation of non-furniture products — window treatments, bed ensembles, decorative pillows, throws and rugs.

The new design center represents the newest, reproducible format for the future. Ethan Allen has renovated and opened new stores adopting the "total home" approach rather than furniture store approach over the past several years. The statement here represents the full extent of where the company is heading nationally, said Farooq Kathwari, chairman and ceo of the $1 billion, vertically integrated manufacturer and retailer.

The three-level, 30,000-square-foot space, immediately across from the Bloomingdale's flagship on 60th Street and Third Avenue, is also at the perimeter of the city's interior design showroom community.

"We're graduating from a furniture store with design services to a full design center, covering all elements of decorating and design styles," Kathwari told HTT. Indeed, the new Design Center features seven lifestyle areas on the three floors, with the first floor featuring the most fashion-forward looks in moods that are pegged to comfort, cozy, and welcome themes. The second floor highlights "everyday dining," while the third floor features "iconic Ethan Allen looks with new twists."

On each floor there are ample areas with tables and sample racks for customers to make their specific decorating selections.

Both the merchandise assortment and presentation "are a projection of our one-stop services philosophy. Most all of the product is designed by us — the furniture, lighting, bed coverings, window coverings," said Kathwari. "It lets us maintain a consistency of style and quality."

Key to the shift to a design-center philosophy "is the development of a staff of professional designers. All our people have interior designer backgrounds, some are ASID, others have strong design experience," Kathwari remarked.

To underscore the critical nature of developing a designer staff, Kathwari was personally involved in the approval of 1,500 designer hires to the program "to assure professionalism." In addition, 30 interior designers have been formed into six teams to implement the designer philosophy across the country, he added.

These teams will run their own teams of designers, "and we now have 256 of those teams in place."

"The challenge," he commented, "is to be attainable and aspirational — a different approach from a furniture store. We are encouraging clients to make appointments — it's a change of expectations — as they would with doctors or hairdressers."

And the new approach extends to the communications with customers. In store, "you don't just see a lot of furniture anymore, but complete settings," he said. Advertising, including direct mail, TV, and a September relaunch of the website, are key elements in the communications.

In fact, during construction here, teaser signs here used non-Ethan Allen words like "chic, sexy, modern, fresh, hip" as enticements for the future opening. Ads now include the service mark "We can help as little or as much as you like," and the new website — "a critical part of our strategy" — will be the state of the art in imagery, message, style and attitude, Kathwari said.

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